"Sopranos" rub-out theory gains credence

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Fans of “The Sopranos” are seizing on clues suggesting that the controversial blackout which abruptly ended the TV mob drama meant that Tony Soprano was rubbed out, and HBO said on Thursday they may be on to something.

A publicity photo from "The Sopranos" shows James Gandolfini (L) and Steven Van Zandt in a scene from the series finale of the HBO drama television series. REUTERS/Craig Blankenhorn/HBO/Handout

One clue in particular, a flashback in the penultimate episode to a conversation between Tony and his brother-in-law about death, gained credence as an HBO spokesman called it a “legitimate” hint and confirmed that series creator David Chase had a definite ending in mind.

“While he won’t say to me 100 percent what it all means, he says some people who’ve guessed have come closer than others,” HBO spokesman Quentin Schaffer told Reuters after speaking to Chase.

“There are definitely things there that he intended for people to pick up on,” Schaffer said.

Chase suggested as much in an interview on Tuesday with The Star-Ledger newspaper of New Jersey when he said of his end to the HBO series, “Anyone who wants to watch it, it’s all there.”

In the final moments of Sunday’s concluding episode, Tony, the conflicted mob boss who has just survived a round of gangland warfare, sits in a diner with his family munching on onion rings as the 1980s song by rock band Journey, “Don’t Stop Believing,” blares from a juke box.

Tension builds as a suspicious man wearing a “Members Only” jacket eyes Tony from a nearby counter before slipping into a restroom. Then, as Tony looks toward the restaurant’s entrance, the screen abruptly goes blank in mid-scene -- with no picture or sound for 10 seconds -- until the credits roll silently.

Stunned viewers, many initially believing something had gone wrong with their cable TV reception, were left wondering whether Tony ended up “whacked” or whether his sordid life went on as usual.

The jarring, fill-in-the-blank finale, concluding a show widely hailed as America’s greatest television drama, sparked a furious debate about whether Chase had conceived of an actual ending and whether he left the audience any clues.

The biggest hint, according to a consensus taking shape on the Web, is a scene from an earlier episode in which Tony and his brother-in-law, Bobby Bacala, muse about what it feels like to die.

“You probably don’t even hear it when it happens,” Bobby says while they sit fishing in a small boat on a lake.

“I think that is one of the most legitimate things to look at,” Schaffer said when asked about theories that the flashback was meant to foreshadow Tony’s death.